The Cultural Significance of Junkanoo

Written by Layton Lewis

To understand the importance of Junkanoo and its cultural impact on the Turks and Caicos, we must first learn about what this artform truly is and its history. To be precise the exact origin of Junkanoo to this day is unknown, but its roots can be traced back to West African culture. It is a dance, musical transcendence of harmonious sounds, and is culturally embedded in Turks and Caicos’ ancestral lineage. Junkanoo was at first spontaneous cultural expression enacted by slaves on the days they had some freedom. Christmas and New Year were the days the slaves celebrated and to this day the tradition remains the same. Junkanoo is made up of many elements, and what makes it extra special is the fact that everything to this day is still hand made.

The instruments utilized are a simple saw from the hardware store, the goatskin drum, the hand-accordion also locally known as the constentina, hand-made maracas, and the acoustic guitar. All these musical elements come together to produce a harmonious sound called “Ripsaw Music” or now more commonly known as “Rake ‘n’ Scrape”. The main instrument used is the saw. The instrument can be held in many ways if it produces the significant bend needed to be raked. A screwdriver or fork can be used, and it is raked and scraped over the sharp teeth of the saw, producing a unique percussive scraping sound. Cardboard and crepe paper, old clothing ripped into specific creative pieces, a spectrum of colors, and dazzling glitter and beads all encompass the making of traditional costume wear for Junkanoo. In these costumes, they would dance, rush, and play the locally hand-crafted instruments. They went house to house singing songs and performing for money, food, candy, and drinks. 

Turks and Caicos Junkanoo festival, Events, Culture and History

Junkanoo traditional was a celebration of freedom, the expression of jubilation felt by the slaves. This tribal significance transformed into culture that has been passed down to the Turks and Caicos Islands and had a significant impact on the shaping of the local culture. Passed down through this artform is the story of resiliency, craftmanship, creativity, and has shaped and the made the local Turks and Caicos population unique.

Junkanoo is still considered a sense of pride, and a symbol of artistic expression for most local residents. It is a positive force that continues to teach the upcoming generations what it means to be proud and to press forward. 

Today, Junkanoo Turks and Caicos has transcended into a festival, a kaleidoscope of colors that brings both natives and tourists together. From performances at the Tourist Board’s signature Fish Fry, to different settlements coming together to compete against one another. Come to Turks and Caicos and join in the celebration of culture and all things Turks and Caicos.

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